His reign was the longest in British history. During her 70 years on the throne, Queen Elizabeth II - who died on Thursday September 8 at the age of 96 - has crossed the ages and fulfilled her role with an unfailing sense of duty. A fine diplomat, often knowing how to find the right words, the sovereign left her mark on the crown. A look back at his life in ten milestones.
Born on April 21, 1926 in London, Princess Elizabeth of York was not predestined to become queen. When her grandfather, King George V, died in January 1936, it was her uncle, Edward of Wales, who acceded to the throne as Edward VIII. But only 11 months after his coronation, the sovereign was forced to abdicate following a constitutional crisis linked to his desire to marry Wallis Simpson, a twice-divorced American. Elizabeth's father, Albert, the Duke of York, was then crowned in December 1936, as George VI. At the age of 10, and against all odds, the young Elizabeth becomes the heir to the British throne.
When her father George VI died on February 6, 1952, Princess Elizabeth was in Kenya with Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, whom she had married five years earlier. She was then proclaimed Queen of the United Kingdom and the other kingdoms of the Commonwealth under the name of Elizabeth II, at the age of 25, and became the sixth woman to ascend the British throne. His coronation did not take place until 16 months later, on June 2, 1953, as tradition dictated that a period of mourning be observed before such festivities. The ceremony is broadcast live on television for the first time in British history. And this, despite the opposition of the Prime Minister of the time, Winston Churchill.
The early years of Queen Elizabeth II's reign were marked by extensive travel. In 1961, she undertook an official visit to Ghana, despite the risks that weighed on her security. Its host, President Kwame Nkrumah, has been the subject of multiple assassination attempts, raising fears. But at the time, the former British colony, which gained independence in 1957, was drawing closer to the Soviet Union and could leave the Commonwealth. Then the queen insists: "How foolish I would look if I were afraid to visit Ghana, since Khrushchev went there being well received." His trip was a success and reaffirmed the ties between the two countries. Witness the photos of her dancing with Kwame Nkrumah, during a reception, which go around the world. Ghana is still part of the Commonwealth today.
Queen Elizabeth II dances with Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah, during a state visit to Ghana, November 21, 1961
Not all of the queen's initiatives will be so happy. Nine years later, anxious to give a more human face to the British monarchy, and encouraged by Philip, Elizabeth II agrees to receive a television crew to film the daily life of the royal family. In 1969, a 1h50 documentary, entitled Royal Family, was broadcast by the BBC. If it is a huge audience success - viewed by nearly 30 million Britons - the film quickly attracts strong criticism. Some accuse it of trivializing royalty, and others of showing a royal family living out of step with its times. After being broadcast three times, the film was finally banned by the Queen in 1972. Completely untraceable for several decades, it reappeared on the Internet in 2021 before being removed again by the YouTube platform. Despite everything, short excerpts remain, viewable online.
In this year 1981, the queen was targeted in the space of four months by two attacks. On June 13, during the color salute ceremony, Elizabeth II was the target of six shots as she paraded on horseback. An experienced rider, the queen controls her mount and avoids falling. The author of the shots, a 17-year-old young man, was arrested by the police who quickly discovered that they were blank bullets. Sentenced to five years in prison, he will serve three before being released. On October 14, the Queen was again targeted during a parade in the city of Dunedin in New Zealand. Another 17-year-old man fired a 22 caliber Long Rifle at him. But he misses his target and is arrested in the process, before being punished with a three-year prison sentence.
"Annus horribilis". This is how the Queen describes the year 1992, during her speech on November 24, delivered on the occasion of her 40 years of reign. In question: a succession of scandals which deeply agitated the crown. In March, the Queen's second son, Prince Andrew, separated from his wife Sarah Ferguson. A month later, it was the turn of her daughter, Princess Anne, to divorce her husband Mark Philipps. The black series continues in November: a serious fire breaks out at Windsor Castle, causing considerable damage in the royal residence. The repair bill amounts to more than 36 million pounds. Finally, the year ends in December with the announcement of the separation of Prince Charles from his wife Diana, against a backdrop of repeated scandals, after 11 years of marriage.
On August 31, 1997, Lady Diana died in a car accident in Paris, a year after her divorce from Prince Charles. The shock in the UK and around the world is immense. Elizabeth II, however, refuses her, for a time, a royal funeral: officially, Diana has left the British monarchy. The royal family does not lower the flags of Buckingham Palace either, causing general misunderstanding. The sequence is catastrophic for its image. Aware of the urgency of correcting the situation, the queen finally speaks during a televised address on September 5, the day before Diana's funeral. His speech in tribute to the former Princess of Wales appeases public opinion, and his hostility towards the crown, which was beginning to waver.
In May 2011, the Queen visited Ireland at the invitation of Irish President Mary McAleese. The visit is historic: it is the first by a British monarch since the country gained its independence in 1921, at the end of the Anglo-Irish war. A state visit placed under the sign of reconciliation between the two peoples, after centuries of violence and resentment. Elizabeth II even lays a wreath at Dublin's Garden of Remembrance, a monument celebrating heroes who died for Ireland, fighting the British. This trip was a success, hailed by more than 80% of the Irish population.
After more than 73 years of marriage, the Queen's husband, Prince Philip, died at Windsor Castle on April 9, 2021, aged 99. "It is with deep sorrow that Her Majesty The Queen announces the death of her beloved husband, His Royal Highness Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh," the official statement from the Royal Family announced. A national mourning of eight days is decreed in the wake. During her funeral, the queen appears alone in front of her coffin, due to health restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. The touching image goes around the world. Very affected, Elizabeth II nevertheless returned to the task, appearing again in public, the following May 11, during her 67th speech at the opening of Parliament.
Queen Elizabeth II during the funeral of her husband Prince Philip, April 17, 2021 in Windsor
This is the last major event in which Elizabeth II participates. The Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations, marking 70 years of her reign, begin on June 2, 2022 and last until the 5th. On the first day of this grand celebration, she appears wearing sunglasses on her nose, all smiles on her face to the crowd, from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, in the company of the royal family. More than 1500 soldiers parade for the occasion during the traditional military parade of the color salute, accompanied by hundreds of riders and more than 400 musicians. Concerts and celebrations will follow for the next three days, although "a certain discomfort" will prevent the queen from attending certain planned events. "I continue to be inspired by the goodwill that has been shown to me, she said in a press release, and I hope that the next few days will be an opportunity to reflect on all that has been accomplished during of the past 70 years, as we look to the future with confidence and enthusiasm."